Monday, March 25, 2024

Jaclyn Desforges reviews nina jane drystek's Missing Matrilineal (2023) and Sophia Magliocca's Girl Gives Long-Fingered Self-Portrait (2023) in Hamilton Review of Books

Hamilton writer Jaclyn Desforges offers first reviews for nina jane drystek's Missing Matrilineal (2023) and Sophia Magliocca's Girl Gives Long-Fingered Self-Portrait (2023) as part of a three-title review (alongside Ben Robinson's The Book of Benjamin), "The Presence of Absence," over at Hamilton Review of Books. Thanks so much! You can see the original review here, or excerpted below. As Desforges writes:

When I chose the collections to juxtapose for this review, I absolutely did not look for connections in advance. I chose two chapbooks that appealed to me: Missing Matrilineal by nina jane drystek and Girl Gives Long-Fingered Self Portrait by Sophia Magliocca, both published in 2023 by above/ground press. But I was immediately struck by the pervasive feeling of absence in drystek’s collection: The first poem, “i haven’t found the ladle yet,” begins with the image of an empty bowl. drystek creates a portrait of memory, loss and grief by focusing on what remains after a beloved person’s death: “the row of cedars he planted,” she writes. “the quilts she sewed.” drystek’s poems are spacious and vivid, dancing between English, Polish and French. We see wallpaper curls and cupboard-aged whiskey, imagine borscht on our tongues.

In the final and longest poem, “my second sister makes her apparition,” the speaker addresses her sister Isabelle who, as we learn later in the acknowledgements, “lived for the briefest of moments.” Still reeling from The Book of Benjamin, I was struck by the lines “a girl unborn / est une femme fantôme,” “surely there is dust that remembers,” “a body that wasn’t,” and “name that is.” This collection is intimate and tender – full of grief and bittersweetness. It’s about death, which is another way of saying it’s about love.  

While drystek’s chapbook is a collage of objects left behind, Magliocca’s is, as the title indicates, a self-portrait. In the first movement of the collection, the speaker lists details about herself – “I’m a fast talker slow walker average daughter,” Magliocca writes. “I’m a good swimmer for three strokes.” The first poem, “Note,” is made up of a single stanza, but as Magliocca goes on, the poems begin to break apart – the next three contain four quatrains, and as the speaker goes on, revealing increasingly vulnerable details, Magliocca adds white space and staggered line breaks. “I spend my evenings in the bathroom / staring at that face / stretched across the chrome drain,” she writes. By page 11 of the chapbook, the repeated word “memories” snakes across the page, and on page 17, the second movement of the collection begins with what the speaker is afraid to carry: “big boxes up / narrow staircases / rusty knives on flat trays.” Then, after a long gap, the word babies appears neatly in the centre of the page. The final poem begins, “I know nine months is 274 days.” It appears on the page like a series of waves, or the curves of a body, and goes on to explore the complex feelings surrounding the speaker’s abortion. “I know your would-be birthday,” Magliocca writes. “fire sign like your father / imagine soft curls / auburn.” And there again, the immovable presence of absence – that blank space of might-have-been.

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